[Trip undertaken in Dec 2012]

More than a year down the line after my solo trip to Coorg, another new year’s eve was fast approaching. Instinct told me this was going to be another one of those boring occasions when the world parties hard to welcome the new year whereas yours truly tries to forget everything, finishes his night shift job, scouts the city scape in his superhero costume, rescues a couple of victims from the city’s seedy underbelly and then goes back to sleep and wakes up without a hangover in the new year.

It was clear that the urge to travel again was fast becoming an addiction. I called up my room-mate on Christmas and discussed a hastily laid plan I had made, of a weekend trip to Bijapur. Some time later, he called in with updates on fitting in Badami, Aihole and Pattadakal into the trip as well.

Fast forward to Majestic bus stand on Friday night at around 10.45 pm, with 5 of us waiting for a KSRTC sleeper coach to the sleepy town of Bagalkot in northern Karnataka. The bus would take around 8 hours to cover a distance of 530 odd kilometres from Bangalore. The plan was to check-in at a hotel in Bagalkot, take in Badami, Aihole and Pattadakal – all of them in within a radius of 13-20 km from Bagalkot on Saturday. Later that night, we could catch a bus to Bijapur, check-in to a hotel and  the next day, take in sights of the famous structures built by the Deccan sultanates.

In late December, the bus journey got uncomfortably cold that night. Thankfully, I had a sweater for protection but I have a faint recollection of my roommate wrapping himself with a towel, shivering, while the bus ate up the miles towards Bagalkot.

Bagalkot – Badami, Aihole and Pattadakal

Around 5.30 in the morning, we arrived at Bagalkot bus station and headed to a nearby hotel blaring tamil devotional music, to get a cup of coffee and rid ourselves of the cold enveloping us. The hotel guy directed us to a cheap hotel  situated bang opposite the bus station. It would cost us between 500 to 600 for 5 people in a dusty room with 3 beds that had never seen water, detergent or sunlight. Still, we checked in, freshened up and were out by around 8 to look for a vehicle to take us to the one of the gems of India’s ancient history.

It so turned out, the folks in Bagalkot did not know the art of a good bargain. Any attempt to negotiate the rental cost of a vehicle was met with an obstinate refusal. We finally managed to wring a deal for a rickety Force Trax that would take the 5 of us around Badami, Aihole and Pattadakal for around 1500.

The weather in Bagalkot, or for that matter anywhere in North Karnataka, can get extremely hot even during the winter months. If you’re thinking of carrying a bottle of water, it would be a good idea to get two of them. So it was, that on an uncomfortably hot morning, the 5 of us, in a vehicle meant for 11, were making our way through some extremely bumpy roads that were surrounded by farmlands as far as the eye could see.

We arrived at Badami at around 11 in the morning to catch our first glimpse of the famous Badami cave temples. Wikipedia mentions Badami as the capital of the earliest Chalukyan dynasty, also known in history as the ‘Badami Chalukyas’. It was during this time, beginning in the mid 6th century that the roots of the Chalukyan style of architecture were born. The temples themselves, numbering four (wikipedia mentions a fifth cave temple that is accessible only by crawling into it), are built into caves on different levels of sandstone cliffs. The cliffs overlook a body of water known as the Agastya Tank.

The first thing I noticed there were the numerous monkeys dotting the cliffs and jumping up over the vehicles in the parking space and resting in the shade underneath. The second thing was that we had probably landed up on a wrong day. Badami gets a lot of tourists through out the year but we had landed up on a day when there were around 5-6 buses full of school children. Apparently, there was some sort of a school picnic cum educational tour going on that day and the cave temples were thronging with shrieking, thrilled and a very excited lot of children.

Nataraja, Badami cave temple
Nataraja strikes a pose for the children
Badami Cave Temple 2
Fantastic carvings indeed
Badami cave temple 2 - pillars
Pillars in cave temple 2
Vishnu - Badami Cave Temple 2
A guide explaining the stories and the intricacies of the architectural styles. This carving of Vishnu inside cave temple 2 is probably the most famous of Badami’s cave temples. Also note the finely detailed carvings depicting a lion’s face on the left pillar and the figures where the pillar meets the ceiling.
Vamana avatar - Badami Cave Temple 2
Now this is what I call a story in stone. In this mythological tale passed down through the generations, Vishnu in his Vamana avatar asks for his famous 3 wishes from the asura king Mahabali.
Harihara and Narasimha - Badami Cave Temple
We got confused at this one. The left sculpture, I insisted, was Shiva as you could see snakes on his waist and hair. My friend insisted it was Vishnu because of the conch and jewellery. This turned out to be Harihara, a term used to denote aspects of Shiva and Vishnu. The right relief is of Vishnu in his Narasimha avatar.

Badami Sandstone cliffs
Striations on the sandstone cliffs
Remnants of Deccan sultanates at Badami
Remnants of the Deccan sultanate when they ruled over Badami

Cave temple 3 and 4 were extremely crowded and I gave up after a couple of attempts to photograph them. So we made our way around the tank towards the Bhootanatha group of temples. On our way, I got left behind while clicking some photographs and was soon accompanied by 2 kids who started giving me an impromptu, albeit uncalled for guided tour of the area. It is best to tell them you are not looking for a guide straightaway lest they start asking for money afterwards.

Bhootanatha Temple
Bhootanatha Temple jutting out into the Agastya Tank. Notice the shrine on the right boulder. I wanted to climb on to that boulder but the path to the top has been filled with cement to thwart any attempts – I wonder why.
Bhootanatha Temple Badami
A look from another angle. This is also the spot where one of the songs from Mani Ratnam’s film ‘Guru’ was shot.
Different gods on one of the cliffs adjacent to the Bhootanatha temple
Different gods on one of the cliffs adjacent to the Bhootanatha temple
Shrine to Vishnu
A tiny shrine outside the boulder to the right of the Bhootanatha temple
Vishnu inside the shrine
Vishnu resting on the Sheshnag inside the tiny shrine above

Desperate for some respite from the blazing sun, we settled for lunch at the Heritage Hotel’s restaurant that the driver took us to. They only had the regular thali for lunch, but for 70 bucks a plate, we unanimously concluded that it was a very good meal. From Badami, we started for our next destination which was Pattadakal – around 20 kilometres away.

[Continued in Part II]

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